Sebastien Loeb demonstrated the potency of the new Citroen C4 on gravel by taking a commanding Rally Mexico victory.
The reigning champion drove steadily through the final leg, ending the event 55.8 seconds ahead of runner-up Marcus Gronholm.
Although this was a superb result given that the C4 was making its first competitive appearance on gravel, Loeb said he wouldn't be content until the car was truly dominant.
"We are fighting (with the other teams) but we are not easily leading, so we have to continue to work and to improve," he said.
Indeed both runner-up Gronholm and early leader Petter Solberg could legitimately suggest that they might have beaten Loeb on this rally.
After a dismal Friday - when an unfavourable road position, incorrect tyre choice, a faulty sensor on his Ford's engine and some muted driving all contributed to the championship leader slipping to sixth place - Gronholm was right on the pace for the rest of the weekend. He moved from fifth to second within a single stage on Saturday, but by that time Loeb was already a minute ahead.
"We were maybe down to seventh or something on the first day so it was very bad," Gronholm said. "So it's good to be second."
Solberg had led leg one until a rock damaged the oil cooler on his Subaru and put him out of the rally. But Subaru were still very happy with the performance of the brand new Impreza, with Solberg's teammate Chris Atkinson running in the top three for most of Friday.
A boost problem and some set-up issues saw Atkinson fall back later in the weekend, allowing Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo to battle for the final podium position despite trailing the Subarus on leg one.
Hirvonen had outperformed teammate Gronholm on Friday but was caught off guard by the more experienced Finn's leg two resurgence and spun while trying to keep up. That put him back behind Sordo, but he made sure of third place with a pair of stage wins today.
"I'm really pleased," said Hirvonen. "Okay, we had a spin yesterday but still we came back and managed to get third place, and I'm really, really happy to get six points again. We're getting closer to Marcus and Sebastien all the time, so it looks very good."
Although he missed out on a podium, Sordo was still content with fourth, 16 seconds behind Hirvonen.
Having run as high as second early in the event, Atkinson admitted to some disappointment with his eventual fifth place, but overall he was very satisfied with his new car.
"We'd aimed for a top five but we thought we could be higher," he said. "But we've got to be happy that we're a lot closer to these guys now. We're still fine-tuning the set-up, but it will come."
Behind Atkinson, Manfred Stohl drove steadily to sixth. The OMV Kronos Citroen driver had taken a stage win on leg one and briefly ran ahead of Gronholm, before fading and losing touch with the leaders. He then drove safely for a points finish - but was almost too conservative on the final day, when Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala gained considerably on Stohl.
"We got what we wanted," said Latvala. "We came here to get some points, and we really got them. We have been improving the driving every day so we have a good feeling going to Portugal."
All three Stobart cars finished in the top nine, with Matthew Wilson taking his first point of the year ahead of Henning Solberg, who put himself out of contention by rolling on the first stage of the event.
Production class winner Mark Higgins completed the overall top ten.
Loeb's victory moves him back up to second in the championship, two points ahead of Hirvonen, and six behind leader Gronholm.
Rally Mexico results:
Pos Driver Make Time
1. Loeb Citroen 3h 48:13.3
2. Gronholm Ford + 55.8
3. Hirvonen Ford + 1:27.7
4. Sordo Citroen + 1:43.7
5. Atkinson Subaru + 2:24.1
6. Stohl Citroen + 3:45.5
7. Latvala Ford + 4:10.8
8. Wilson Ford + 12:22.6
9. H Solberg Ford + 14:15.7
10. Higgins Mitsubishi + 20:31.2